The headline in the Hazleton Standard-Speaker on Wednesday February
12, 1964 said,
"MMI 'Crushes' West Hazleton 7-5."
1/30/05 by Bill Gaffey
The slow down is one of the most difficult strategies to carry out in
a basketball game. First of all, the fans on both sides of the
aisle usually detest the idea. They howl, yell, complain and in
some cases threaten. It takes salesmanship on the part of the
coach using the strategy to sell the idea to his team. Then things
have to fall into place in the right fashion to make it work. The
opposing coach has to be careful how he attacks the team holding the
ball. If he presses and traps to try to force the action, he may
set his own team up for a defensive breakdown that allows easy back door
baskets by the team slowing down the ball. It creates a tense
style of play, players soon discover that there are not as many
possessions and not as many shots.
Most people who hear the score today, don't realize that both MMI and
West Hazleton scored over 100 points against other opponents during the
season and both were tied for first place in the Anthracite League at
one time. They were both very good teams. In fact just a
week before this game, Ray Saul writing for the Standard-Speaker in his
column, "Speaking of Sports," commented about the high scoring games in
the area, "last night was a shooters night West Hazleton led the scoring
parade with 98, Hazleton had 95, Weatherly had 93, and MMI scored 88."
No one saw Pearl Harbor coming in 1941, and in the Anthracite League no
one saw a 7-5 slow down coming in 1964.
In the game between MMI Prep of Freeland and West Hazleton, West
Hazleton took the early lead 3-2 midway through the first quarter. MMI
ran an offense that pretended to be interested in scoring, but in fact
was not. They held the ball until the end of the quarter when with
seconds remaining, Jack Hollis drove to the basket, was fouled and make
them both to give MMI a 4-3 lead.
No one scored in the second quarter, MMI concentrated their defensive
efforts on West Hazleton's Grobelny and Schaefer while choosing to allow
Sypeck any shot he wanted from the outside. He never made a shot
all night. Meanwhile, every time MMI had the ball, they passed,
dribbled, dribbled, passed and advanced the ball only to take it back
and start over. The score stayed at 4-3 at the half.
West Hazleton scored in the first 15 seconds of the third quarter to
take a 5-4 lead. Despite trailing, MMI continued to hold the ball using
a combination of weaves and passing offensive maneuvers. The score
remained 5-4 as the third quarter ended. MMI continued their
strategy into the fourth quarter and the score remained 5-4 until 55
seconds remained in the game and MMI took a time out. They
continued to use their weave until 18 seconds remained, and Hollis drove
through the middle and scored to put MMI ahead 6-5. West
Hazleton pushed the ball up the court to Grobelny who missed a shot and
Schaefer rebounded for West Hazleton and was fouled. He missed the shot which could
have tied it. Jack Feussner rebounded for MMI, was fouled and made
one shot to set the final score in stone at 7-5. The March 12,
1964 story in the Hazleton Standard Speaker said "that the West
Hazleton fans were ready to lynch Al Geodecke, the MMI coach who
conceived the whole idea." The Pennsylvania Basketball Website
talked to Coach Al Geodecke on January 27, 2004, forty years after the
game. He remembered the game like it was yesterday. He said
that a lot of things had to fall into place to make his strategy work,
he remarked that "the rosary beads were clicking in our favor!" For
instance, West Hazelton became more deliberate and held the ball
themselves for a while. That helped MMI according to Coach
In those days when the season ended, the public schools like West Hazleton
had the PIAA state playoffs and catholic schools had the PCIAA
playoffs, but a private school like MMI had no where to go when the
season ended. So a game like this took on even more importance for
Who would you have bet on going into this game?
-On Tuesday February 11, 1964, the Standard-Speaker said, "the West
Hazleton Wildcats, defending league champs and winners of the first half,
are a firm choice to turn back MMI at West Hazleton."
-West Hazleton had scored 118 points the Friday before in a 118-71 win over
-In fact, West Hazleton had scored over 100 points five times before this
-West Hazleton had not lost in their home gymnasium in four years!
-West Hazleton had dominated their league with 63 straight league wins
before this game!
-West Hazleton was undefeated for the year and stood at 17-0.
-It was suggested that this game be moved to a larger court so more fans could
see the game. West Hazleton decided to keep the game at their own
court even though it was much smaller. They wanted the home court advantage.
A question was raised in the article by Don Barnes who covered the game in
1964 for the Hazleton Standard-Speaker, "Is that kind of game ethical?"
It was better than ethical, it was a great strategy. It was a coaching
maneuver that took great personal courage. It was a game plan that
took brilliant execution by the MMI players. It was a great game!
The Box Score
FG FT Pts
Feussner 0 3-7
Urenovich 0 0-1
Kanuck 0 0-0
Woodring 0 0-0
Totals 1 5-10
0 0-0 0
Grobelny 1 1-1
Salvanorich 0 1-4 1
R. Beach 0 0-0
Williams 0 0-0
Martnick 0 0-0
Earlier in the season, West Hazleton had defeated MMI by eight points
and won the first half of league play.
The 7-5 victory by MMI threw the League into a three way tie for the second
half and this set up
a third meeting between the two teams. West Hazleton won that third
game 79-69 and the league title. After the game, MMI coach, Al Geodecke
announced his retirement from the coaching profession. He had been the
MMI coach for 12 successful years. So he left coaching in 1964 and
never returned. But his bold strategy played out during an evening in
February of 1964 in that West Hazleton gymnasium has never been forgotten
and will stand as "one of the most memorable games ever played in
Pennsylvania basketball history!"
These were the 1964 second half
standings going into the
7 to 5 game.
West Hazleton 2-0
Foster Twp. 2-0
St. Gabriel's 1-1
Hazle Twp. 0-2
What is MMI?
On May 7, 1879, coal operator Eckley B. Coxe
opened the Industrial School for Miners and Mechanics, a
two-story building in Drifton, Pennsylvania, funded by the Coxe family.
In 1888, a fire completely destroyed the Drifton school and it took five
years to reorganize the school. The new school, now named the Miners and
Mechanics' Institute of Freeland, Pennsylvania, opened on March 16, 1893.
In December, 1902, the front wing of the new school was built where MMI
stands today. It was largely funded through contributions from Eckley Coxe's
wife, Sophia Georgianna Coxe. Classes started in the new wing in the spring
In 1970 the school accepted young women for the first time and the
name of the school was changed to MMI Preparatory School.
The MMI 1973 boys' basketball squad won the state basketball
championship, the first independent school to do so. By that time,
private schools had been given the opportunity to participate in the state
On their webpage today they say that "MMI
is the most sought-after independent private school in Northeastern
their webpage here,